have seemed a little too convenient that the
stunning pair of Antonio
Banderas and Penélope Cruz were on hand to announce
the recipient of the 1999 Foreign Film Academy Award &
which just happened to be fellow Spaniard (and
frequent director of both actors) Pedro Almodóvar.
Still, Señorita Cruz managed to mint a minor Oscar
moment by adorably spazzing out, thereby evidencing
either her honest excitement for her All About My
Mother director or true acting talent.
Although said talent has been well recognized in
Spain since the early '90s, the fetching actress has in
recent years started to make a splash on this side of
the pond through minimal screen time and maximum
exposure, including a spot among People
magazine's 50 most beautiful folks of 2000. "She can
actually stop traffic," claims producer Alan Poul. "When
you see her in motion, you can't help but stare."
American audiences have twice as many opportunities
to stare at the french-fry-loving vegetarian in 2000.
Cruz carries Woman on Top, a sexy romance about a
blessed chef whose constant motion sickness is
compensated by divine culinary skills and, ultimately,
true love. She then stars opposite Matt
Damon in Billy
Bob Thornton's All the Pretty Horses.
On-screen, displaced Texan John Grady Cole (Damon) hooks
up with Alejandra (Cruz), the daughter of a wealthy
Mexican rancher. Off-screen, the comely co-stars have
been rumored to have started a romance that
tongue-waggers have blamed for the breakup of Damon and
former live-in love Winona
Ryder. While the Pretty co-stars have
remained coy about the true nature of their
relationship, Cruz recently admitted to TV Guide,
"We've become very close."
As a child growing up in Madrid, Spain, Cruz didn't
want a pretty pony or a pretty stud; instead, she
dreamed of swans and nutcrackers and handsome princes.
The eldest daughter of an auto mechanic and a
hairdresser, she studied classical ballet at the
National Conservatory for nine years. Additionally, she
spent four years under the tutelage of Cristina Rota and
three years learning Spanish ballet from Ángela Garrido,
and honed her jazz dancing skills with Raúl Caballero.
As a teenager, Cruz's beauty and dancing prowess
garnered her appearances on a myriad of Spanish
television shows and in a video for the pop band Mecano,
which featured her then-boyfriend Nacho Cano. She
completed two years of secondary school before
sidelining academics and dancing for acting.
From her 1991 debut in El Laberinto Griego
(Greek Labyrinth), Cruz worked steadily in
Spanish cinema for the next seven years. Notably, she
portrayed one of four sisters who force a Spanish Civil
War defector to answer the age-old question "Have you
ever had to make up your mind?" in Belle Époque,
which won a 1994 foreign film Oscar.
Cruz also made a brief and forgettable jaunt to
American shores, accepting a role in a 1993 telepic,
Framed, featuring Timothy Dalton. Mercifully, she
skedaddled back to Europe and eventually hooked up with
rising lensman Almodóvar, who cast her as what she
deemed "the ugly woman" in Live Flesh, and then
the pair reteamed a second time for the much-touted
Mother (1999), in which Cruz depicted a nun
impregnated by a transvestite.
A year earlier, Cruz managed two personal victories
sans Almodóvar. She filmed La Niña de Tus Ojos
(The Girl of Your Dreams), a role that would earn
her a 1999 Best Actress Goya. She then appeared in a
Hollywood feature, The Hi-Lo Country, opposite Woody
Harrelson and Billy
Crudup. Like any starlet, Cruz ran right out and
completely disposed of her first official Tinseltown
paycheck. Unlike any starlet, she donated those earnings
to Mother Theresa's children's sanctuary in Calcutta,
India, where she had briefly volunteered.
As apparent as her inner beauty may be, it was Cruz's
undeniable physical beauty that secured her next
upcoming major motion picture outing, as Johnny
Depp's drug-addicted wife, in Blow (2001).
"She was not right at all for the part," director Ted
Demme commented to People, "but it was just
because of her absolute beauty that I hired her."
Be it that Cruz and a part are simpatico or that Cruz
herself is simpatico, the brunette is hardly sitting
around waiting for offers to pour in. She's spent the
beginning of the new millennium in Greece as Nicolas
Cage and Christian
Bale vie for her affections in Captain Corelli's
Mandolin. Meanwhile, her name has been paired with
the other world-famous Cruise
(Tom, natch) to complete director-screenwriter Cameron
Crowe's next pic, Vanilla Sky.